Survey Says: Bedford Youth Engaging in Fewer Risk Behaviors
By Kim Siebert MacPhail
A Youth Risk Behavior survey undertaken every two years by Bedford Youth and Family Services shows that most unhealthy activities among Bedford’s middle and high school students have declined since 2010 and many are below the state and national averages. Social Science Research and Evaluation, Inc., of Burlington administered 1,243 surveys last spring that included questions about drug and alcohol use, smoking, feelings of safety,bullying and fighting, sexual activity, dating violence, depression and social supports.
An executive summary of the survey states that “[t]he results are expected to help community leaders plan and evaluate policies and programming while developing the most effective ways to support young people. The information can also help parents understand challenges their children face and encourage them to work in planning prevention and response strategies.”
The executive summary also included the following information:
Alcohol: Alcohol is the most popular substance among youths, including youths in Bedford. Compared to other substances, use of alcohol starts earliest and increases most dramatically. 3% of middle schoolers and 22% of high schoolers reported drinking in the 30 days prior to the survey. 9% of high schoolers reported binge drinking (defined as having five or more drinks within a couple of hours); of the high school students who engaged in any drinking at all, 40% of them engaged in binge drinking.
On the positive side, both alcohol use and binge drinking have declined over the last four years: In 2008, alcohol was used by 40% of all high schoolers and in 2010 by 33%, as compared to 22% in 2012. Binge rates over the same years decreased from 24% to 18% to 9%.
Also, fewer students reported driving with someone impaired by alcohol or drugs, following a declining trend.
Marijuana:Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug. In fact, marijuana is currently smoked by over twice as many students (11%) as cigarettes (5%).Middle school use of marijuana was 0.4%.
Other drugs: Use of other drugs other is much less common than use of marijuana, with only 1% or less reporting any use whatsoever. The substances included in the survey were methamphetamines (1%), ecstasy(1%), oxycontin (0.9%), cocaine (0.8%), heroin (0.1%), and steroids (0.1%).
Violence and Safety: Fighting, Bullying, and Concern for Safety: While students reported being generally safer in school than when they are not in school, one issue that more commonly occurs in school than out of school is bullying. 15% of middle schoolers and 12% of high schoolers reported that they had been bullied at school in the 12 months prior to the survey. 33% of middle schoolers and 40% of high schoolers reported witnessing at least one incident of bullying. 8% of middle schoolers and 10% of high school students said they had been electronically bullied via email, instant messaging, social networks or texting.
The 2012 survey contained new questions about how students respond to bullying—either of themselves or of others. 60% of middle schoolers and 70% of high schoolers reported that they tried to get the bully to stop.Only 7% of middle school students and 6% of high school students reported taking part in the bullying itself. Fewer students responded in this survey than in the previous one that they told a trusted adult or parent about a bullying incident.
Sexual Activity: A total of 21% of high school students reported ever having sexual intercourse: 7% in 9th grade, 18% in 10th grade, 22% in 11th grade and 40% in 12th grade. These rates have decreased overall since 2003. The state averages for high schoolers reporting any incidence of sexual intercourse are far higher: 42% over all four grades as compared to 21% in Bedford. Sexually active Bedford students were more likely to use condoms: 64% versus 58% statewide.
Dating Violence: 3% of high school students reported being physically hurt by someone they went out with. Of these students, 3% reported being sexually hurt specifically.
Depression: 12% of Bedford middle school students and 18% of high school students reported having feelings of depression on at least one occasion in the 12-month period prior to taking the survey. A definition of depression was provided for the students: “Feeling so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row so that they stopped doing some usual activities.”
13% of middle schoolers and 10% of high schoolers reported hurting themselves on purpose(intentional cutting, burning, or bruising).
7% of middle schoolers and 9% of high schoolers reported considering suicide; 4% of middle schoolers and 6% of high schoolers reported making a plan to commit suicide; 1% of middle schoolers and 3% of high schoolers made an attempt at suicide. Bedford High School numbers are below the state averages, but compared to Bedford’s 2010 numbers, each of the suicide and self-injury categories have increased a percentage point or two. Middle school percentages have increase by similar margins as well.
Social Supports:Respondents were askedwhether they had a trusted adult to talk to about their problems. Bedford youth generally identified an adult family member as their confidant(middle school=85%, high school=79%), followed by a school-based adult (middle school=65%, high school=75%), and finally, bya non-family adult outside of school (middle school=33%), high school=37%). The trend data over time shows an increased percentage of students who report that they have access to a school-based supportive adult.
The full 2012 Youth Risk Behavior Survey can be obtained by contacting Bedford Youth and Family Services at 781-275-7727.